Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan holds a press conference during the NATO summit on June 14, 2021, at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
Yes Herman | Reuters
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cast doubt on the possible NATO membership of Sweden and Finland, just as both countries are on the verge of applying to join the alliance in the wake of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
“We are following developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we do not have a positive outlook,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul on Friday.
A new member state requires the unanimous approval of all existing members to join NATO. Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and has the second largest military force in the 30-member alliance after the United States. Erdogan mentioned hosting members of the Nordic countries ‘Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, which Turkey considers a terrorist group.
Countries are “home to many terrorist organizations,” Erdogan claimed. He described the adoption of Greece as a member of NATO in 1952 as a mistake. Turkey and Greece have been at odds with each other despite being longtime rivals and members of NATO.
“As Turkey, we do not want to repeat the same mistakes. In addition, the Scandinavian countries are the guesthouses of terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said. “They are even members of parliament in some countries,” he added. “It’s not possible for us to be on the side.”
Sweden currently has six Kurdish members in parliament, representing the Liberals, the Sweden Democrats, the Social Democrats and the Left.
CNBC has reached out to the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministries for comment.
Finnish leaders on Thursday called for NATO membership to be “delayed” and neighboring Sweden expected to follow suit, but assured that Scandinavian countries would soon abandon their traditional position of neutrality towards both NATO and Russia in order to join the mutual defense. Agreement
Leaders from both Finland and Sweden have said a decision on whether to apply for NATO membership could be expected soon.
Paul Weinerhom | AFP | Getty Images
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, public support for joining the organization has grown in both countries. Finland shares a long border with Russia, and Moscow has threatened serious consequences if it becomes a NATO member. Opposition to NATO expansion was one of the reasons for the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has been seeking NATO membership for years.
In response to Erdogan’s remarks, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Havisto called for patience and “step by step” process. Swedish Foreign Minister Anne Linde has said she is confident that her country’s membership bid will have the unanimous support of NATO members.
Tim Ash, an emerging market strategist at Asset Management in Blue and a longtime Turkish expert, sees Erdogan as trying to use leverage to gain concessions as a NATO member.
“I’m guessing Erdogan is looking for some benefits here in terms of military equipment, better warplanes, missile defense, and more,” Ash wrote in a note on Friday.
“However, Erdogan’s position in the Western capital or in Ukraine will not be appreciated at all. It will be seen as another sign of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Western alliance.”
Turkey’s highly strategic Insirlik airfield contains 50 U.S. strategic nuclear weapons, which some U.S. officials have suggested removing in recent years due to growing tensions with Washington and Ankara, partly centering Erdogan’s warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.